A group of 18 former military and national security officials wrote to President Barack Obama on Friday urging the administration to cancel plans for further cuts in United States nuclear warheads, warning that new arms reductions would undermine U.S. security.
The ex-officials, including two former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in the letter to Obama that North Korea’s recent underground nuclear test, and concerns about growing Pyongyang-Tehran nuclear arms cooperation, undermines any further disarmament sought by the president.
"In our professional judgment, born of decades of experience with national security policy and practice, America’s ‘triad’ of nuclear-armed land-based and submarine-launched missiles and bomber-delivered nuclear weapons have promoted strategic stability and discouraged proliferation," the former officials stated.
"Steps that raise uncertainty about the viability, reliability and effectiveness of our deterrent will have the opposite effect."
The letter followed a report this week that the new strategic arms cuts with Russia will be announced soon. U.S. officials said the president is preparing for a new round of arms reduction talks with Russia that will seek a one-third cut in U.S. nuclear warheads, beyond the levels set in the 2010 New START arms treaty. The treaty requires cutting the U.S. arsenal to 1,550 warheads.
Russia’s forces already have reached that level and are being modernized for Moscow’s nuclear strategic missiles. The United States currently has about 1,700 deployed strategic warheads.
Rose Gottemoeller, the acting undersecretary of state for arms control, was in Moscow last week to discuss the new arms talks. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet soon with his Russian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and new arms talks will be part of the agenda.
Asked about the new one-third nuclear arms cuts, a White House official said there is "nothing to announce." The official then referred to Obama’s statements at the nuclear summit in Seoul last March when he said further nuclear cuts are planned and could include deployed strategic warheads, tactical nuclear weapons, or warheads held in reserve.
Officials said the administration is partly delaying its announced plans for the next round of arms talks as a result of the Senate delay in confirming former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. The former Nebraska Republican last year took part in producing an international nuclear disarmament report that called for radical, possibly unilateral, cuts in U.S. nuclear forces. The report by Global Zero called for eliminating all land-based nuclear weapons and taking other denuclearization steps such as lowering the alert status of other strategic forces.
Hagel sought to distance himself from the extreme views of the Global Zero report during recent Senate testimony when he said his views coincided with those of president on the subject. Hagel also denied that the Global Zero report called for unilateral arms cuts even though language in the report states nuclear forces should be unilateral if mutual reductions cannot be negotiated bilaterally with Russia.
The former officials warned in the letter to the president that further cuts and a failure to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal would increase strategic risks.
"We respectfully recommend that this plan be abandoned in favor of the fulfillment of commitments you made at the time of the New START Treaty to: modernize all three legs of the triad; ensure the safety and deterrent effectiveness of the weapons with which they are equipped; and restore the critical industrial base that supports these forces," the former officials said.
"Doing otherwise will put our country, its allies, and our peoples at ever-greater risk in a world that is, far from nuclear-free, awash with such weapons – with increasing numbers of them in the hands of freedom’s enemies," they stated. "It is unimaginable that that is your intention. It must not be the unintended result of your actions, either."
Obama promised Republican senators in late 2010 that he would invest $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal and support infrastructure that U.S. nuclear specialists say urgently needs upgrading.
Congress, however, has failed to fully provide the promised funding for nuclear modernization and the administration has not pushed for the program, apparently as a result of the current fiscal crisis.
North Korea’s recent nuclear test and Iran’s nuclear program, the letter states, illustrate that further cuts to the United States nuclear arsenal will embolden rogue states.
"The opportunity this ominous turn of events offers is the chance to reconsider your pursuit of the goal of ‘ridding the world of nuclear weapons,’" they said. "It is now clear that, as a practical matter under present and foreseeable circumstances, this agenda will only result in the unilateral disarmament of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. That will make the world more dangerous, not less."
The letter was signed by former officials including former CIA director R. James Woolsey and John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Carl Mundy, and Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, former chief of naval operations.
Other signatories include retired Adm. Jerry Johnson, former vice chief of naval operations, and retired Adm. James "Ace" Lyons, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Retired Vice Adm. Robert Monroe, former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, and Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy, also joined the letter that was organized by the Center for Security Policy.
"One of the most unstable regimes on the planet is continuing to amass the skills and the capabilities to produce, weaponize and perhaps use the most dangerous weapons known to man," the former officials write. "The fact that Pyongyang is doing so together with other nations hostile to us and our allies–notably, Iran–raises the possibility that the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons technologies will soon metastasize around the globe."
"As President Obama meets today with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he is expected to emphasize the United States’ commitment to its most important Asian ally at a time when the threat to Japan from China and North Korea is growing by the day," said Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., one of the signers and former acting assistant defense secretary for international security policy.
"The single most tangible thing Mr. Obama could do to give substance to such rhetoric would be to eschew further weakening of the U.S. nuclear arsenal – and the extended deterrent or ‘nuclear umbrella’ it has constituted for nearly seventy years."
Gaffney said the letter signers "have rendered an incalculably important service by challenging the myth that doing otherwise in pursuit of a ‘world without nuclear weapons’ is either achievable or desirable under present and foreseeable circumstances."
Others who signed the letter were William R. Graham, former science adviser to the president and chairman of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack; retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, former Air Force deputy chief of staff; retired Lt. Gen. E.G. "Buck" Shuler, former commander of the Eighth Air Force, Strategic Air Command; and retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, former deputy commander U.S. Army Pacific.
Civilian national security officials who signed the letter were Kathleen Bailey, former assistant director, of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; Henry F. "Hank" Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative; Samantha Ravich, former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney; Troy Wade, former director of the Energy Department’s defense programs; Director, Defense Programs, Department of Energy; and David J. Trachtenberg, former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security policy.